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A Swarm of Swoopy Coupes is Set to Replace the Three-Box Sedan

Coupe de Grace

If it's not an SUV, it won't sell. That's the message marketing experts and product planners are sending to senior auto industry execs around the globe. Sales of conventional three-box sedans are plummeting, with those of minivans and mainstream sports cars not far behind. Against this background, automakers have identified four- and five-door (hatchback) coupes as The Next Big Thing for consumers who don't want to drive an SUV.

This time, however, they're not only focusing on high-end models like Audi A7, BMW 6 Series GranCoupe, and Mercedes-Benz CLS, but affordable, mainstream models like the striking Hyundai i30 coupe concept set to be unveiled at the Paris Show. Others will follow: Volkswagen's MkII Passat CC appears in 2017, Kia's long-awaited five-door coupe GT is nearly ready, and BMW has a 2 Series GranCoupe coming.

Meanwhile, Audi has signed off a smaller Sportcoupe derived from the next A3. Inspired by the 2014 Paris Show car, the good-looking four-seater will be roomier than the concept, and should also be available in 400hp RS guise. Audi is also working on coupe based on the all-electric hardware previewed in the Q6 e-tron. Expect two different power packs, one rated at 95 (Sport) and the other at 105kWh (RS) and a launch date early in the next decade.

Daimler has also greenlit a number of four- and five-door coupes. The four-door Mercedes-AMG coupe, codenamed X290, will appear in 2018. X290 will not be based on AMG GT hardware, but will be built off the new E-class platform, and closely related to the forthcoming third-generation Mercedes-Benz CLS four-door coupe. The five-door X290 features AMG's new vertical bar grille, a long sexy roofline, and a chunky tail with trademark graphics. The next-gen CLS wagon has been axed to make room for the AMG five-door coupe.

Also killed off: The S-Class coupe and convertible, after just one generation. Why? The S-Class drop-drop is stealing sales from the more profitable SL, and the hardtop will be replaced by a four-door S-Class coupe, codenamed C227, in 2021. And as it puts the finishing touches on planning for the next-generation C-Class, codenamed W206, Mercedes is also working on a coupe/hatchback/wagon hybrid to be called the CLC. Said to be roomier than the Audi A5 and prettier than BMW's 4 Series Gran Coupe, the CLC arrives in 2022. It will be offered with efficient four-cylinder engines, and a plug-in hybrid version will be available.

Sadly, BMW's sleek 2 Series five-door coupe won't be rear drive. Instead, it will be based on the FWD/AWD platform used by Mini and for the BMW X1. Although there was a time when BMW was the performance leader of the German pack, the 280-hp 2 Series GranCoupe will face the 400-hp A3 Sportcoupe and the 408-hp CLA 45AMG.

Munich seems oddly out of step with its rivals in other ways. The next-generation 4series GranCoupe is due in 2021, but insiders are still debating whether to merge it with the confusingly similar 3 Series GT. Meanwhile, the 6 Series GranCoupe is due to bite the dust when the 6 Series two-doors are replaced by the more up-market 8 Series Coupe and Convertible. Ironically, the 8 Series twins, due 2019 and 2020, were supposed to make life more difficult for the two-door S-Class models, cars that are now supposedly going away to make room for...a four-door coupe.

The 6 Series GranCoupe designation will survive, but is to be transferred to the follow-up of the ho-hum 5 Series GT due late next year, sources say. And an 8 Series GranCoupe hasn't been under consideration for fear it might cannibalize 7 Series sedan sales. Now that Mercedes has made its move, however, it will be interesting to see how long that line of thinking lasts in Munich.